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Saturday, November 29, 2014


I was reading a book by Spanish poet-translators talking about their work, editing by my friend Jordi Doce. I was profoundly moved by their devotion to the poets they translated and toward translation itself. Jorge Riechmann toward René Char, for example. Andrés Sánchez Robayna with Wallace Stevens. Many statements in this book moved me almost to tears or made the hairs on my forearms stand on end. What gives me this response usually is not a great poem by itself, but a moment in which I become conscious once again of the depth and beauty of the poetic tradition itself. I always know this, but having it become so clear to me again is very moving.

It was very humbling to see how these poets saw translation as a deep part of their own art form. I gathered many quotes and observations that I will use somewhere, somehow.

(One of the scholars who contributed to this book (not a translator or poet, afaik, but a scholar) noted that poets who saw the avant-garde as a living tradition translated more than those who saw it as a historical period that had come to an end.)

I remember the first two poems I tried to translate from Spanish when I was 17 or 18: "Mariposa de luz" by Juan Ramón Jiménez and "Casida de la rosa" by Lorca. I'm amazed that I still remember this. I also remember, somewhat earlier, trying to translate William Blake's poem "The Fly" into French and attempting to get the right number of syllables in each line. I couldn't make it work! It's even more amazing that I remember that, since I'm not in French nor a Blake scholar, and I was attempting this in High School. "Petite mouche..."

If I am sometimes critical of translation (and translators, and their translations) it is not for lack of respect. It is more from an excess of respect. A guy on Facebook I don't know objected to my judgment that Robert Bly was a disastrous translator. This is not just my "opinion." I actually know what I'm talking about and could quote you chapter and verse. I've been studying this since 1975 or so, in a serious way.

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